Jeremy Hunt is “considering” the future of HS2, culture secretary Lucy Frazer has said this morning.
Amid reports that suggest the Birmingham to Manchester section of HS2 could be scrapped, Frazer explained that chancellors “always” consider the cost of major infrastructure projects “to the public purse”.
Asked on Times Radio if HS2 was a “national disgrace” that “should have been cancelled a few years ago”, she said: “Well, you know that these are issues that the Chancellor must consider in the round and you will know that a chancellor always considers major infrastructure projects, the costs to the public purse.
“And the last few days that’s what’s being highlighted, that these are issues that are being considered by the Chancellor.”
Last week Rishi Sunak refused to commit to building HS2 to Manchester, but insisted that his government is committed to levelling up transport infrastructure across the country.
“I’m not going to comment on that type of speculation”, Sunak said when challenged on reports.
It comes as five Labour mayors, Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Tracy Brabin, Oliver Coppard and Steve Rotheram, will gather in Leeds today to issue a joint plea to the prime minister not to cut HS2 further.
Ahead of the meeting, the mayors issued a joint statement to express their concern at the prospect of the government scrapping the rail project’s northern leg between Birmingham and Manchester.
The statement also insisted that the line must terminate in Euston, central London, rather than at Old Oak Common in the west London suburbs.
The statement said: “Investment in transport infrastructure is a huge driver of economic growth – creating jobs, increasing productivity and opening up new business opportunities. HS2 and NPR [Northern Powerhouse Rail] will deliver this right across our regions.
“This government has said repeatedly that it is committed to levelling up in the Midlands and North. Failure to deliver HS2 and NPR will leave swathes of the North with Victorian transport infrastructure that is unfit for purpose and cause huge economic damage in London and the South, where construction of the line has already begun.”
Speaking to Sky News this morning, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “We [the Labour party] want to see HS2 built certainly from London to Manchester.
“This is a network – the whole point of HS2 is not about the speed of the journey, it’s to take fast services off the existing network, have better local services – and you need a network to do that.
“Even though you’re right to say that the original Y leg that would have gone to Leeds went some time ago, the overall impact – particularly on what we call Northern Powerhouse Rail – that requires some of the infrastructure for HS2 to be in place.
“This is about the whole of the northern network.”
Reynolds, whose consistency lies on the cusp of Greater Manchester, said he “can’t believe as a country we can’t build a rail line between London and Manchester”.